Preparing for a future of everything

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dennis Gabor is famous, among other things, for writing in 1963: “The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented”. In 2017, many of the new frontiers in science, technology and innovation – such as driverless cars and service robots – are no longer fiction.

Most experts now agree that the pace and breadth of technological advances are intensifying. By 2030 – the target date for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – the world will have undergone further changes in the realm of daily human interaction.

Many changes already underway are having a profound impact on our economies, societies and ecosystems. Industrial processes are becoming increasingly automated and robotized, with human intervention increasingly confined to specific tasks.

Rapid growth in large datasets, and the capacity to store and use them, offer new resources for research, analysis and problem-solving, but can also be used by cyber-criminals. Ubiquitous computing, facilitated by advances in the Internet of Things in combination with 5G, big data and nanotech, will also be key drivers of change. We may truly be at the beginning of what has been referred to by economist Klaus Schwab as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

In many of these areas, ethical questions arise around the potential of technological advancements to outpace policies and regulations and, in the process, undermine societal norms. While many advances hold great promise for sustainable development and poverty eradication, they also risk leaving much of the world behind in a global context in which inequalities are already sharply felt.

To address these challenges and forge solutions for using technological change as a catalyst for inclusive development, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly will organize a joint meeting on “The Future of Everything – Sustainable Development in the Age of Rapid Technological Change”.

The joint meeting will include a three-hour panel presentation and interactive discussion between expert presenters from Government, academia, the private sector, civil society and meeting participants. As part of the meeting, a presentation will be made by Sophia, the latest and most advanced robot produced by Hanson Robotics, who has discussed issues ranging from banking and insurance to auto manufacturing to robotics and artificial intelligence with key decision-makers across industries.

Expert panellists will also include Sophia’s developer, Mr. David Hanson, the founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics; Mr. Stephen Ibaraki, serial entrepreneur, investor, futurist and founding managing partner of REDDS; Mr. Jeffrey Schnapp, Founder and Faculty Director of metaLAB, Harvard University; and Ms. Rita Kimani, Co-founder of FarmDrive. H.E. Mrs. Mariya Gabriel, European Commission for Digital Economy and Society, has also been invited. Ms. Jennifer Strong, host of Wall Street Journals’ podcast entitled “Future of Everything” will moderate.

The discussion will focus on best practices and new initiatives with respect to the latest developments in this area, including how policy-makers and their partners can harness the benefits of progress in science and technology, while minimizing their unintended, negative consequences. It will be held on 11 October 2017 (10am – 1pm) in the ECOSOC Chamber at UN Headquarters. Attendance is open to UN pass holders and those who have registered online.

Photo credit: ITU/R. Farrell

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